Recent work of the Law Reform Department, including Human Trafficking Bill; Mental Health Bill; land reform; LBTT reliefs

Human Trafficking (Scotland) Bill

The Criminal Law Committee submitted written evidence, welcoming the policy intent and in particular the desire to tackle human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland. It acknowledged the complex and multi-faceted nature of the subject and welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to work with relevant agencies on an international and UK level. On the basis that the Government favours a victim-centred approach, the committee stated that the bill should also set out the obligations of public authorities in providing support and assistance. It further suggested more consideration of the specific support that should be available, beyond the duties on ministers already in the bill.

Mental Health (Scotland) Bill

The Mental Health & Disability Committee submitted a stage 1 briefing, reiterating the concerns highlighted in its written evidence on the proposed extension of short-term detention pending determination from five days to 10. Although based on recommendations of the McManus report, this extension is, in the committee’s view, no longer necessary. It also flagged its concerns that the bill does not provide patients detained in a low-security hospital the right to appeal against conditions of excessive security.

Future of Land Reform

The Society responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation, which lays out proposals for a potential Land Reform Bill and a Land Reform Commission. The Society called for any land law reform to be “coherent, clear and workable”; pre-existing legislation must be taken into account. The setting up of a Land Reform Commission appears to be a sensible way to progress; however, there appears to be a lack of clarity as to its structure and remit. Stakeholder engagement is key; any Commission must remain independent of executive influence and represent the interests of all stakeholders, such as agricultural tenants, crofters and charities.

The Society also highlighted concerns around the proposals to increase transparency and accountability of landownership in Scotland by limiting those who can own or take a long lease over land to legal entities registered in an EU member state. In the Society’s view, such restrictions could be easily bypassed by non-EU companies setting up shell companies in the EU, not necessarily fulfilling the objective of greater transparency. This could have an effect not only on commercial land, but residential and agricultural land also, with a potentially serious impact on business and investment.

LBTT reliefs

On 25 February, Isobel d’Inverno, convener of the Tax Law Subcommittee, gave evidence to Holyrood’s Finance Committee on the Government’s proposals in relation to sub-sale development relief and multiple dwellings relief for land and buildings transaction tax. She welcomed the policy shift so that the former relief will now be claimed and given at the outset, subject to it being withdrawn or partially withdrawn in the event a “significant development” does not take place on the acquired site within five years. This avoids a potential commercial disadvantage as compared with England. She also welcomed the wider definition of “significant development” now proposed, but suggested that the five-year period should be subject to extension on cause shown for a further reasonable period determined by Revenue Scotland.

Full details of the above, and further information on the current work of the Law Reform Department, can be found at
The team can be contacted on any of the matters above through, or follow us on Twitter: @lawscot
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